A side effect of writing this blog is having to constantly clarify that I don’t hate men. I think that’s true. I think that I don’t hate men. That’s a strange thing to be uncertain about, and I’m not even sure about the veracity of the claim anymore. When someone says, “I’m not a racist, but” you can be sure that what they’re about to say is definitely racist. Here I am, always saying, “I’m not a misandrist, but” and I’m wondering if I do kind of hate men, and what to do with these feelings.
Before I get ten thousand angry comments, you should know that even I think I’m wrong more than I’m right. I’m painting with broad strokes here. I started to write that you should think about what I say here on an institutional level and not be personally offended as or on behalf of men. But the reason I’m realizing that I might hate men is personal. And I don’t really know what to do with that.
Here’s the thing: even men who are intelligent and deeply thoughtful will inevitably say or do something that makes me wonder what they really think about women. A little comment will slip out and make me wonder if they see me as an equal or if they even see me as human. And then I wonder what might happen if I keep spending time with them.
I’m not sure I can trust men because one thing will trigger another and then I’m remembering that one time when I was a teenager, the terrifying feeling of being overpowered by a man, being held down, crying and trying to get away. Or my mind goes back a year or two ago, to the time a man slipped his hand around my throat and casually said, “I could kill you so easily right now.” Those are just drops in the giant bucket of bad experiences with men. And yes, there are abusive women who do terrible things and should be held accountable for them. But in my personal experience, there have been a small handful of bad women and an even smaller handful of good men. I don’t believe that all men do these terrible things, but I do believe that all or almost all women have had these experiences with men.
There are too many of these stories. We can call these events to mind and discuss them with too much detachment; it happens so often that it’s stopped being shocking to us. I think about how we’ve been told that we’re the ones overreacting, that it wasn’t such a big deal. We’ve been put in situations with the men who’ve harmed us and been told to be nice, to smile and be polite and let the past be the past.
I don’t want to do that anymore. I got tired of making concessions, of letting abusive people maintain avenues into my life. So I stopped. I stopped having close emotional relationships with men. Over the past few years, I’ve surrounded myself with strong, loud, unbreakable women… and no men. And that gave me the space I needed to grow and recover and build a healthy sense of self. It was definitely the right choice at the time, but now I’m not sure if it’s the right path to continue down.
I have to acknowledge that I probably overcorrected. There were too many abusive men in my life and now there are no men in my life. I do extremes: polarized all or nothings. I know that’s not right and I’m trying to do better, but grace is not a word that’s often used to describe me. I’m not good at forgiveness or wiggle room. I’m a terrible educator. When someone does or says something without realizing that they’re implicitly or explicitly promoting rape culture and perpetuating an environment of violence against women… I tend to leave the table.
I don’t always want or feel able to engage in a dialogue about gender and violence. I know that’s not productive. I know that my silence won’t change anybody’s mind, and in fact will be read as compliance or tacit support, but some days it feels impossible. Some days, I want to be petulant, to call myself a misandrist and swear to never ever speak to a man again. I don’t want to sit in the discomfort and pain and try to figure it out. I want to have a tantrum and leave the hard work to somebody else.
But even as I feel this tension so fully, I have to acknowledge that I am complicit in so many oppressive systems. Every time a man says something that makes me swear that I absolutely definitely hate men, I have to remember that my privileged identities constantly contribute to those same feelings for another person. My ignorance and insensitivity around my whiteness, my straightness, my cis-genderedness hurt people just as much, probably more, than men’s general inability to understand how their privilege and power is marginalizing to me.
And that brings me right back to my own lack of grace. Engaging in social justice, trying to challenge and change the harmful aspects of our society, takes a lot of grace. It’s hard, it hurts, and all of us have valid feelings about it—even when those feelings are in opposition. We have to give each other space to figure it out, and we have to give ourselves some grace too. It’s okay to let someone know that they’re responsible for educating themselves. It’s okay to take a break.
But if we don’t join in again, nothing will ever get better. When I think about all the girls growing up now, I don’t want them to have casual conversations with their friends about the ways they’ve been abused by men. I want their lives to be better, safer, and happier than ours have been. So I have to learn how to balance my legitimate mistrust and wariness with productive and human conversations. I’m still trying to figure out how.